Languages

Bonjour! Nǐ hǎo! Cześć! Jo napot! Guten Tag! Zdravstvuyte! Hello!

These are just seven of roughly 7,000 languages spoken and signed around the world. Some countries are home to many – such as Zimbabwe, which has 16 official languages.

But languages are under threat. According to UNESCO, 230 languages went extinct between 1950 and 2010. Today, a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers.

Historically, those speaking minority languages have faced discrimination, such as Native children in Canada being punished for speaking their mother tongues. Globalisation also means that smaller languages are used less and less. Meanwhile, the world’s most popular languages continue to grow. According to Ethnologue, there are now over 740 million non-native English speakers worldwide.

Language is an important part of culture. When a language becomes extinct, much about the people who once spoke it is lost. Luckily, an organisation called Wikitongues is on a mission to save them. Collecting videos of native speakers from all over the world, it hopes to keep a record of all languages for future generations.

Read more about the most endangered languages in our briefing.

Read Our Stories

Assembly

As humans, we have the capacity to create endlessly variable sentences in our native language. In this video, TedEd explores how this is possible, and introduces some of the most important people in modern linguistics.

Activities

  1. In a small group, spend 10 minutes writing down words for “hello” in as many languages as possible. How many can you think of?
  2. Using the internet, research endangered languages. Pick one and create a short presentation about it, including where it is spoken and how many people use it.
  3. Choose a language that you do not speak and research some simple words and phrases. By the end of the week, aim to be able to introduce yourself.